'We were confused': Local restaurants react to governor's 2-week pause

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MATT DEYOUNG, Grand Haven Tribune, Mich.
·5 min read
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Apr. 13—Over the past year, local restaurants have become accustomed to making changes on the fly in response to the state's orders in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what happened Friday was a new curve ball thrown their way, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer strongly encouraged Michigan residents to avoid in-person dining for the next two weeks.

Some local restaurants decided to close their doors in response. Others limited hours or days they will be open, while some chose to ignore the suggestion altogether.

"We were confused," said Rosette Samdal, who along with her husband, Jeramy, own Idle Hour Restaurant in Spring Lake. "We thought surely with the rising numbers, it was going to be mandated, so we were prepared for that, and it didn't happen.

"Knowing that there are a lot of concerns, with us personally having a child at home who's compromised (their daughter is battling leukemia), a lot of our customers are elderly and some of our employees have parents who they take care of, we took it as our responsibility to close," she added.

Idle Hour will remain closed through the end of the week before re-evaluating the situation, Samdal said.

"We'll see what the numbers look like," she said Monday. "We're doing takeout, and we actually have a couple of our elderly customers who only come here who are fully vaccinated, and we allowed them to come inside, since it isn't mandated that we close."

A few miles to the east, TED's will continue to welcome dine-in customers.

"We plan on staying open," said manager Burt Sukup. "We're just taking it each day at a time, doing our best to conform to COVID regulations, stay clean and safe, and try to do our best to remain happy and be here for our community."

Sukup said it's hard to tell if Whitmer's suggestion to avoid in-person dining has had an effect on business yet. With local schools on spring break last week, TED's was closed to dine-in service due to fewer people in town.

"We've been doing takeout for spring break, but we're fully open now," he said. "Last week was slow, but that's a yearly thing in Spring Lake."

Copper Post in downtown Grand Haven had a message on its answering system that said the restaurant will be closed through Tuesday, April 13, as they "evaluate customer and employee safety procedures" following the governor's cautionary recommendations. Copper Post will reopen Wednesday, according to the message.

Voluntary two-week pause on indoor dining 'misguided,' leading restaurant group says

(The Holland Sentinel) After Whitmer asked residents to voluntarily stop dining indoors for two weeks, a leading restaurant official in the state said the "scapegoating" of the restaurant and hospitality industry was misplaced.

Michigan currently paces the country in new COVID-19 cases and case rates — and trends currently don't show many signs of improvement. State officials are hoping enough residents can receive the COVID-19 vaccine to slow the pandemic down.

As of Friday, more than 5.1 million Michiganders had received at least one vaccine dose.

In an effort to try to stem the spread of COVID-19 and other variants of concern, Whitmer asked during a Friday news conference for residents to stop dining indoors for two weeks, high schools to go remote for two weeks and for youth sports to stop for two weeks. None of the recommendations were accompanied by a health order.

Justin Winslow, CEO and president of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, issued a statement following Whitmer's conference saying restaurants were capable of providing safe venues for diners.

"While we support and echo the governor's call for a surge of vaccines to be prioritized for Michigan, we believe her suggested recommendation around indoor dining is misguided and doesn't track with available data," he said. "Restaurant operators have done an extraordinary job of maintaining a safe and sanitized environment for guests and employees alike since reopening in February, and it shows in the data. ... As we approach a herd immunity in Michigan that will transform the hospitality industry for the better, it is incumbent on us all to act with common sense and proper precaution. But the continued scapegoating of the restaurant industry without proof or reliable data won't make it come any sooner."

According to state data on COVID-19 outbreaks, on April 1, 15 of 704 ongoing outbreaks were associated with bars and restaurants. Among new outbreaks, 29 of 287 outbreaks were associated with bars and restaurants.

Throughout the state, K-12 schools were a leading setting for outbreaks.

Currently, Michigan health orders allow for 50 percent capacity for indoor dining at restaurants. During a surge in cases last fall, the Michigan Health and Human Services Department instituted an order to completely prohibit indoor dining.

COVID-19 case trends currently mirror those of last fall, and while Whitmer said Friday that she was "not taking any options off the table," the current 50 percent cap on indoor dining remains intact.

Under a bill pushed by Republicans in the state Senate, indoor dining would likely actually be prohibited given the current COVID-19 metrics. The Detroit Free Press reported Senate Bill 250, which has passed the Senate and awaits discussion in the House, ties restrictions on areas like restaurant capacity to COVID-19 cases, positivity and hospitalizations.

Holland-area state Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, co-sponsored the bill. Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, also voted for it.

"We presented a plan based on input from affected small businesses and modeled on states that are more effectively combating COVID-19," Nesbitt told the Free Press. "We wish the governor would collaborate to develop a path forward, but that is clearly too much to ask."